© 2024 South Carolina Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
South Carolina Public Radio's offices will be closed Monday, May 27, in observance of the Memorial Day holiday. Our local news and programming will return Tuesday, May 28.

The states to watch on the 2024 electoral map

Loading...

To better understand the landscape for the presidential election with a little more than six months to go, here is our initial Electoral Vote map of the cycle.

It focuses on the states that are expected to be most competitive in the effort by the campaigns to get to 270 electoral votes, a majority of the 538 total available.

There are a number of paths each candidate can take to victory. Follow them here.

This analysis, which will appear and be adjusted semi-regularly until Election Day, goes beyond just polling and is based on conversations with campaigns and strategists, NPR reporting from the field, campaign activity, and historical and demographic trends.

It lays out which direction the states are leaning at this point and are organized into seven categories — Toss Up, Lean Republican, Lean Democratic, Likely Republican, Likely Democratic, Safe Republican and Safe Democratic.

Voting booths are seen at Glass Elementary School's polling station in Eagle Pass, Texas, on November 8, 2022.
Mark Felix / AFP via Getty Images
/
AFP via Getty Images
Voting booths are seen at Glass Elementary School's polling station in Eagle Pass, Texas, on November 8, 2022.

State analysis and ad spending

Trump holds slight advantages in most of the swing states right now, according to averages of the polls. Strictly going by the polls, Trump would have a 283-255 lead (if you give Biden Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which are currently statistical ties).

But the toss up states are expected to be close, within just a few points, in either candidate's direction. Biden currently has a massive war chest and ad-spending advantage. In addition to personnel, ads are the largest expenditure of a presidential campaign.

Third-party scramble

It's also unclear how third-party candidates could affect the map. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has been pulling double digits in polling, and it's not totally clear which side he pulls most from. Polls have shown him pulling evenly, some have shown him pulling more from Trump, others more from Biden. The Biden campaign would prefer a one-on-one matchup with Trump and super PACs are cropping up on the left to attack Kennedy's record.

He's qualified so far for the ballot in three states — Michigan, Hawaii and Utah. A Quinnipiac poll last month showed Trump's lead expanding from 3 to 5 points when RFK Jr. was included. Kennedy's campaign and a super PAC supporting him say he has enough signatures to potentially also get on ballots in Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina and South Carolina.

The state of play in the states

In Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Biden has caught up, pulled even or taken a lead in some recent surveys. And Pennsylvania happens to be where Biden and allies are spending the second-most on ads right now — almost $4 million in the past month and a half since Super Tuesday, the unofficial start to the general election.

That's only slightly behind what they're spending in Michigan. Biden is trying to make up ground there with younger voters and Black voters, groups he's lagging with. Trump and groups supporting him have spent only about $700,000 in Pennsylvania in that same time frame.

Team Biden has also spent $2 million in Wisconsin. Trump and groups supporting him have spent nothing there so far.

Loading...

Most of the money in this election is going to be poured into seven states, and they fall into two familiar buckets — the so-called "Blue Wall" states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and the Sun Belt states of Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and Nevada.

The Blue Wall states are home to significant shares of white, working-class voters, but Biden has retained strong support with unions. Democrats are also putting in significant efforts, especially in Wisconsin, to reach Black voters and be on college campuses. All three states have significant Black populations and multiple colleges and universities.

While North Carolina was also close in 2020 — within 2 points — given its history of voting Republican, it begins the cycle in the Lean Republican category. Democrats feel the gubernatorial race in the state could help them, as Republicans nominated a highly controversial candidate, who could turn off swing voters.

The increasing population of white, college-educated voters in the state's Research Triangle continues to make the state competitive. But Republicans have won it in all but one presidential election since 1976.

Demographics are important but it isn't everything

The industrial Midwest has moved more toward Republicans because of the shift toward the GOP among white voters without college degrees. That's why states like Ohio and Iowa, which were competitive for decades until the Trump era, are no longer Democratic targets.

It's the key group Trump is targeting. But they are declining as a share of the population and of the electorate. That's a big reason Trump lost despite whites without degrees voting at a higher rate in 2020 (64%) compared to 2016 (55%), according to data from Michael McDonald, the preeminent turnout expert in the country and professor at the University of Florida.

It's also because of the continued shift with college-educated white voters toward Democrats. In 2020, Trump won college-educated white men by 3 points in 2020, according to exit polls, but the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll showed Biden winning the group by more than 20 points.

Combined with the increasing Latino and Asian American population and a remigration to the South of young Black voters, particularly in Georgia, that has meant a reshaping of the electoral map.

"In 2024, we'll see an even more diverse electorate than we saw in 2020, which was even more diverse than 2016 and more diverse than 2012," McDonald predicted.

Consider that 20 years ago, Republican George W. Bush won Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Nevada, New Mexico and North Carolina. That's all changed, as each is either competitive or clearly in the Democratic column.

In addition to the Latino population increase in the Southwest, McDonald pointed to the uptick in Asian Americans, and a remigration of Black voters to Georgia as to why those states continue to trend toward Democrats.

But it's not all demographics. Latinos, Black voters and young voters all view the economy negatively. Majorities overall disapprove of Biden's handling of the economy and more voters say they think the economy was better under Trump.

"Issues matter as well," McDonald noted. "But the sort of issues that can move a sizable chunk of the electorate change with the demographics. And so that's where the two things intersect."

Post-pandemic election realities

This year's election is also going to be different from 2020 in a very big way. Because of the pandemic, mail-in voting was used widely and that contributed heavily to increased turnout. In 2020, 66% of registered voters cast ballots, the highest since 1900. That's unlikely to be the case again, McDonald noted.

"I would be very surprised if we have a turnout rate like we saw in 2020," McDonald said. "And the people who would most likely then not participate ... are going to be these lower-education voters. And so it's going to pose a real challenge to the Trump campaign, to energize these folks yet again to vote in 2020."

In this combination of file photos, President Joe Biden, left, speaks on Aug. 10, 2023, in Salt Lake City, and former President Donald Trump speaks on June 13, 2023, in Bedminster, N.J.  Biden and Trump have set up a political movie the country has seen before — even if the last version was in black and white.
Andrew Harnik / AP
/
AP
In this combination of file photos, President Joe Biden, left, speaks on Aug. 10, 2023, in Salt Lake City, and former President Donald Trump speaks on June 13, 2023, in Bedminster, N.J. Biden and Trump have set up a political movie the country has seen before — even if the last version was in black and white.

Paths to 270

As the map stands, if Trump and Biden win the states leaning in their direction, Trump would need to win 35 electoral votes from the toss ups to get to 270, and Biden would need 44.

Here are three paths to get over the top for each candidate.

For Trump:

  1. The Blue Wall Crumble: Trump toppled the Blue Wall in 2016, winning Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. If he did so again, the 44 electoral votes there would be more than enough. Any other states would be icing. But importantly: Trump likely needs to win at least one of these states to win election again, because the Sun Belt states of Nevada, Arizona and Georgia only provide 33 Electoral Votes.
  2. Sun Belt Plus: Trump could sweep the Sun Belt, but would come up short if he were to lose all the Blue Wall states. That would mean a whisker-close, 270-268 loss for Trump. So he would need at least one other state — likely one of the toss-up Blue Wall states, or he could aim to pick off New Hampshire or Minnesota... or win the one electoral vote in Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District, which would lead to a tie race (see below).
  3. The Eastern Front: Pennsylvania and Georgia provide exactly the 35 Electoral Votes Trump would need to get over the finish line and would put him at 270, even if Biden wins Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Nevada.

For Biden:

  1. The Repeat: Remember, Biden already won once and with 51% of the vote, so he just has to convince the people who voted for him once to do so again. Biden won in 2020 with 306 electoral votes, meaning he can lose up to 36 and still win. Four years ago, Biden swept all of the states in the toss up column.
  2. Hold the Wall: If Biden hangs onto Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, he'd have a 270-268 win. Of those, the state he most needs to make up some ground is in Michigan, though most polls are currently within the margin of error. That's why Biden is campaigning so hard talking about steel and increasing tariffs on Chinese imports to appeal to the kinds of union and working-class voters – that were so key in 2020 – in those states.
  3. The Southwest Chip Shot: Latino voters are critical to Biden's efforts to win in Nevada and Arizona. He's lagging with them currently, but is running lots of Spanish-language ads in both places to try and boost his appeal. Plus, the Arizona abortion ruling threatens to make abortion a focus and be a turnout motivator in the state. If Biden were to win both, and Trump were to chip off Michigan (or Wisconsin), but Biden holds Pennsylvania, Biden would win 272-268. (By the way, if Biden were to win Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin and Michigan, he'd still lose if he lost Pennsylvania, 270-268.)

But, there could also be a tie:

There has only been one Electoral Vote tie in U.S. history — it happened in the election of 1800.

The country came thisclose in 1876, and 2000 was within 5 electoral votes... and some hanging chads.

If a tie happened, Trump would likely become president, because a tie would go to the House. Each House delegation would cast one collective vote for their states. The voting delegations would be those voted into the House after this year's congressional elections.

Republicans currently hold an advantage and are still likely to do so in 2025 as well.

Here are two potential, not outside the realm of possibility, tie scenarios:

Loading...

  1. Sun Belt + Omaha: Trump sweeps the Sun Belt, wins the one electoral vote in the Omaha area congressional district in Nebraska, as he did in 2016, but Biden wins the Blue Wall states.
  2. Industrial tie: Biden sweeps the Sun Belt toss ups, but loses Michigan and Pennsylvania in the Blue Wall. (NOTE: In this scenario, Georgia and North Carolina could be swapped out because they both have the same number of Electoral Votes.)

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Loading...

Tags
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.